“We never get to see a trans woman play a trans woman, so there’s this something new”
BY DIVA STAFF
Trans actor L Morgan Lee has spoken about her history-making casting in the new theatre adaptation of The Danish Girl about the life of painter Lili Elbe, one of the first people in the world known to have undergo gender confirmation surgery.
Based on the 2000 novel of the same name by David Ebershoff, Tom Hooper’s 2015 film adaptation did feature trans actors including Rebecca Root as Lili’s nurse and Jake Graf as Henri, but received substantial criticism for casting a cisgender man in the leading role. Eddie Redmayne, who played Lili, later admitted he was “unsure” if he should have accepted the part.
Six years on from the film’s release, in a new episode of official theatre podcast eleven, Obie-award winner L Morgan Lee says she’s “terrified and excited” about taking on the role of Lili, telling host William J Connelly: “This is a property that people are very familiar with… With that comes expectations of how the story is told.
“It’s a little different to the average new project because there are expectations – but there are obstacles also from previous incarnations of the story being told that trans people today would really like to see addressed somehow, which this [creative] team is doing wonderfully.”
Written by Katie Lam and Alex Parker and directed by Tinuke Craig, the production features other trans actors including Harrison Knights, and is supported by Trans Voices Company’s Harry Williams as well as Jake and Hannah Graf, who are on board as consultants.
On the importance of trans people playing trans roles, Lee says: “We’re so used to seeing unrepresented people portrayed through the lens of people who are not those groups that I don’t think we truly know what it looks like to see a story told from that perspective.
“If this piece is about a trans woman and you’ve only seen men play it, when you have a woman in that space, it’s going to look different – and it might sound different. And how she behaves in the scene and around people is going to be different than you expect. This is unchartered territory.”
In the episode, Lee, who made history previously as the first openly trans actor to originate a role in a Pulitzer Prize-winning theatre production (A Strange Loop) adds: “People are used to seeing these types of narratives told by typically white, very thin and more androgynous people and it is a fear a little bit for me that I hope people are able to go for the ride when a woman is playing a woman.
“We never get to see a trans woman play a trans woman so there’s this something new. And the fact I’m black brings another layer. I could be the complete opposite of what people expect to see in this kind of narrative, but I think that’s really beautiful and such an example of where our business has the possibility to go.”
L MORGAN LEE appears on the new episode of eleven, streaming now at elevenpodcast.com.